City fees push 'American' parade to Dundalk

September 09, 1994|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Staff Writer

In 24 years as an organizer of the "I Am an American Day Parade," William J. Lockwood has seen it all and done it all.

He remembers the brave man who threw himself on top of a group of runaway horses, saving a group of majorettes from being trampled.

He remembers the woman who vaulted on stage and elbowed him aside to grab Henry "The Fonz" Winkler, the popular sitcom star of Happy Days. But this Sunday, the skilled crafter and weaver of pageantry will see the patriotic display pick up its 56-year-old East Baltimore roots and move to Dundalk, where the festivities will start at 2 p.m. sharp, "rain or shine."

"When you do something like this and bring bands and celebrities in, it costs a lot of money just to put on the parade," said Mr. Lockwood, 71, a World War II veteran who has organized more parades throughout the city and Baltimore County than he can remember. "We just couldn't afford the fees the city was asking for crowd control and clean-up."

Baltimore County charged $1,500 for the same services that the city was offering for $9,000, he said. Last year, the city charged $9,213 for the parade.

"I was disappointed because it's always been held in Baltimore since I can remember," said Mr. Lockwood, the parade chairman. "But Dundalk has certainly welcomed the parade with open arms."

In recent years, parade and festival organizers have complained that the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is indifferent to their causes and has raised fees and charges to a point at which the events are too expensive.

Only a few have actually departed, however. The Jewish Festival moved from locations downtown and in Druid Hill Park to Owings Mills three years ago, and the March of Dimes Walk-a-Thon moved to the county for a year in 1993 until its organizers and the city patched things up. The city also lost the Tour Du Pont cycling race in 1991.

Started in 1938 by the Hearst Corp., which published the Baltimore News American, and later adopted by the late Sen. Joseph S. Bonvegna of Southeast Baltimore, the "I Am An American Day Parade" is the last of its kind in the country, Mr. Lockwood said.

The original intent was to honor the Constitution (Gen. Douglas MacArthur served as the first grand marshal), but as time went by, it has evolved into an opportunity for Baltimoreans to show their pride in being Americans.

That's still the intent, Mr. Lockwood said. Participants will just have to show their pride at a new location this year.

While Dundalk residents may welcome the event, others, like East Baltimore Del. Anthony M. DiPietro Jr., are still upset about the manner in which the parade had to leave Baltimore.

"I live in Highlandtown," said Mr. DiPietro, who took over as parade director after Senator Bonvegna. "I'm not happy at all that it is moving. I tried to keep it in Baltimore, but the city was not responsive to our needs. The city has been good to us in the past, but we just couldn't afford their price anymore.

"It's not a political move," Mr. DiPietro added. "And it's not a spiteful move against the city, believe me. It's just a matter of cost. Besides, nine out of 10 people [in Dundalk] said they were waiting for the parade with open arms."

According to Mayor Schmoke's office, however, Mr. DiPietro and his committee never applied for a permit this year.

"They [the parade committee] didn't file an application this year so we don't know how much it would have cost them," said Mari Ross, assistant to the mayor. The city's fee for events depends on the size of the parade, the location and the date, she said.

"It is in our interest to see that the parade stays in Baltimore," Ms. Ross said. "The mayor extended a hand to the committee to offer to work with them in resolving their money problems, but we didn't hear from them about it. We're always interested in sitting down with anyone who wants to have an event in the city.

"Something with such a long-standing tradition in Baltimore, clearly, the city would be interested in having the parade return to Baltimore in the future."

But Mr. Lockwood said he doubts the parade will return unless the price becomes more affordable.

Sunday's parade will feature more than 70 marching units and floats, with eight bands, including the famous Philadelphia Mummers Quaker City String Band. With a primary election only a few days away, politicians will also be popping out of the woodwork -- but only current office holders -- no campaigners allowed, Mr. Lockwood said.

While he's expecting a crowd of about 60,000, it will be a far cry from the hundreds of thousands who flocked to the celebration in the 1930s and '40s, drawing military recruiters who set up booths along the route.

The event used to bring out people with lawn chairs and blankets as early as 6 a.m. as they scrambled to save places to view the spectacle, said Mr. Lockwood's wife, Doris. She first attended the parade in 1947.

As far as Mr. Lockwood is concerned, the parade will go on no matter what.

"One year we had the temperature in the 100s and a lot of people in the bands were falling here and there because of the heat," he said. "Those band outfits are really heavy and made for the fall. But we didn't cancel. We didn't cancel when some people were injured by those runaway horses either. We just continued on with the parade after they were taken to the hospital. We don't even cancel when it rains."

The I Am an American Day Parade begins at 2 p.m. Sunday, heading north on Dundalk Avenue from the Logan Village Shopping Center. Marchers will circle Veterans' Park and head up Dunmanway and Sollers Point Road.

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